Survivor’s spotlight: Black women who beat breast cancer

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are four Black women who have defied the odds and beat breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to honor those who have fought the disease and to celebrate the strength and resilience of survivors. 

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Robin Roberts and GMA goes pink for breast cancer awareness month on “Good Morning America,” Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, on the Walt Disney Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images)

While the pink ribbon symbolizes hope and unity, it also highlights the glaring inequities that affect Black women in their battle against breast cancer. 

According to the American Cancer Society, Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer compared to their white counterparts. Similarly, the mortality rate for Black women under 50 is double that of white women under the same age bracket, Still, there are a number of Black women who have defied the odds and emerged triumphant in their battle against breast cancer. Here are four famous Black women who have survived breast cancer: 

Robin Roberts

Back in 2007, “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts revealed that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After discovering her lump during a self-exam, Roberts was open about her fight against breast cancer. Throughout her battle, viewers watched the anchor shave her head and share the ups and downs of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. 

“I had that moment of: Wow, I can’t believe I’m going through this. Why is this happening to me?” she told NPR. “And my mother … sweetly and gently — said to me, ‘Honey, everybody’s got something.’ And it just really stuck with me.”  

Wanda Sykes

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Wanda Sykes attends Deadline Contenders Television at Directors Guild Of America on April 15, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Deadline via Getty Images)

For actress and comedian Wanda Sykes, her breast cancer diagnosis came when she got a breast reduction. Despite both her pre-surgery mammogram and biopsy coming back negative, Sykes learned that she had a noninvasive form of breast cancer, known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Ultimately, the comedian decided to undergo a double mastectomy to remove any risks of the cancer progressing or coming back. While the surgery had an impact on her self-esteem, she eventually grew to embrace her new look. 

“My scars? I barely see them. I feel whole; I really do,” Sykes told People magazine. “Because every day, I get to say, ‘There’s no cancer.’ I’m healthy, and that’s beautiful.”

Vanessa Bell Calloway

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Vanessa Bell Calloway attends Essence 16th Annual Black Women in Hollywood Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza on March 9, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/FilmMagic)

Actress Vanessa Bell Calloway was diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer, DCIS, at 52 years old. Since undergoing a lumpectomy (which removes the infected breast tissue), mastectomy, and breast reconstruction, Calloway says that surviving breast cancer changed her life. 

“I didn’t want to miss life. I decided cancer was not going to ruin me […] Anytime you go through anything so emotional, you learn a lot. I’m very grateful and blessed,” she wrote in a personal essay published by Ebony. “I forget I even had cancer sometimes because I’m so entrenched in the goodness of life. It’s a gift.’ 

Calypso Rose

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Calypso Rose performing on the Open Air Stage at Womad, Charlton Park, Malmesbury, United Kingdom on July 26, 2019. (Photo by David Corio/Redferns)

Trinidadian artist Calypso Rose, also known as the queen of Calypso, survived a breast cancer diagnosis in 1996. Twenty-seven years later, the 83-year-old vocalist continues to overcome the odds musically and medically. Soon after her cancer battle, Rose had heart surgery and beat stomach cancer. Then, in 2019, she made history as the oldest artist to perform at the Coachella festival at 78 years old

“That’s how I know the good Lord still wants me here,” Rose told Billboard, “because I have a job to do: bring joy, peace and harmony to my fans and to the world.”

Haniyah Philogene is a multimedia storyteller and Lifestyle reporter covering all things culture. With a passion for digital media, she goes above and beyond to find new ways to tell and share stories.

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